Old computers never die...
on 3/14/2004 (9)
On the road again, Smooth Operator's tech staff sent me to find classic "old" PC's still in use across the country.
|Old computers never die, they just fade away. |
Gathering my gear and my ancient Zenith Super Sport 286 laptop, I stopped by my editor Kris Steele's office to pick up my plane tickets. This assignment was an exciting one: To find classic old computers still in use across America.
I tossed my lugubrious 16 pound laptop on Kris's desk with a satisfying thud
"Kris, speaking of ancient technology, howsabout springing for a new laptop? I skip going to the gym when I carry this pig around. I mean, with the workout I get lugging this boat anchor from town to town, who needs weights?"
Steele looked up from his brand new Sony Vaio 1.3 lb ultra-thin P4 feather lite notebook
"As soon as I finish payin' off this Mazzaratti, thats when! I pay you for the words you're typing, not the equipment you're typing them on! Between you and Suzanne whining for 6 more D cells for her desk calculator, I'm lucky to have enough dough left to pay the AOL bill every month! Now grab some extra 5 1/4" floppies and get moving!"
My first interview was in New England. Rumor had it the control room of the desolate Boon Island lighthouse was still controlled by that progenitor of all PC's everywhere, the Tandy TRS-80. I was greeted at the lighthouse by Pete "Pirate Pete" Kidwell, and led up 172 spiral stairs to the light control room.
"Yarrr...there she be, matey. She's as sound and shipworthy as the day I installed her here in '68...Yarrr..."
Sure enough, on Pete's desk was a classic silver TRS-80, its massive 8 inch floppies grinding and kerchunking like a dentist's drill gone wild.
"Some folks tells me to upgrade to a new machine, but I refuses."
Kidwell tapped his pipe on his lip
"She may not be as fast and pretty as the new models, but she gets the job done, with dignity I might add, just like meself, plus, parts for the old girl are nickles and dimes on E-bay! Yarrr!""
Bidding Pete farewell, I cascaded down the 172 steps to the bottom. Exhausted, I pressed on.
My next visit took me to Parry nuclear power plant in northeast Ohio. I met with control room operator Jim Candy
"By gollie, this whole plant is run on the precursor of the Atari 400. This puppie came stock with 32k of ram and this switch here toggles on another 48k. If I want to update the plants control rod sequence, I just pop this ol' game cartridge in the side, and off we go, by Jiminy!
When asked if such an obsolete array was suited and reliable enough for a nuclear plant, Candy laughed softly
"Of course not, and that's why we have backups! If you look over here, I've got a Commodore VIC-20 and an IBM PC jr. for diversity! Compatability is a problem, but hey, parts for these dinosaurs are nickles and dimes on E-bay!"
My last stop was at Cape Kennedy, NASA...NASA? It turns out the 5 redundant computers on the Space Shuttles are Pentium Pro 90Mhz class machines, obsolete in the late 80's by today's standards. NASA chief Shawn O'Keefe explains:
"When we began designing the shuttle in the late 70's, the Pentium 90 was future technology. By the time we finished the project and the shuttle was flight ready, they were obsolete. That's why we put 5 on board. I think it's safe to say that the same built-in obsolecense will ocurr with the next generation of reusable spacecraft as well. But hey, look at the bright side, we can buy spare parts for nickles and dimes on E-bay!
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